St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Woods in the prairie

Just next to our 5 acres is 1.5 acres for the old Swedish
Lutheran Mission church and a still function local cemetery.
Quiet neighbors.  15 years ago the church was painted by the
local Scout troop, but entropy is again threatening. 
Here in Pine Island our 5 acres is part of an old 10 acre woodlot in the open prairies of southern Minnesota.  It is an oasis for wildlife; a refuge in the corn, bean and alfalfa fields.
Look at the satellite map west of Pine Island and see the two valleys nearby

The name, Pine Island, comes about because two branches of the Zumbro river wander in from the west, joining in town.  The two rivers each carved a valley in the high rolling prairies surrounding us.  The two river valleys not only meet in town, but if you follow them west for 5 miles, they separate a few miles apart, and then wander close together again, forming an island surrounded by valleys.

These valleys and streams stopped the prairie fires that kept most of the area open.  When settlers arrived in the mid 1800s through the turn of the century, they chose Pine Island as a site for water power, timber, and farming.  The "Island" was pine near town, and hard woods to the west; an oasis of timber for fuel and lumber in an otherwise treeless plain.

To share the timber bounty, land speculators bought the Island (a few 1000 acres) and plotted it into 5 acre strips--166 feet wide and 1/4 mile long and sold each strip to a farmer or town dweller. The long strips divided each 40 acres into 8 narrow plots, all accessible from the adjacent road.

In 1991, we bought one of the few remaining strips still wooded.  Most of the rest have been cleared and are farmed or pasture. Adjacent to our 5 acre strip was another 5 acre strip. Along the road is an old church and cemetery --1.5 acres with woods in the rest of the strip combining with our woods to make about 8 acres total, surrounded by open fields.

Both strips are filled with mature timber.   As best we can tell, the land was logged off about 1900, then fenced in and pastured for time, and then allowed to grow without being disturbed for the next 100 years.
Looking through the woods to the back of our house. We built it
starting in 1995.  Some of the lumber came from the 5 acre woodlot,
logs hauled to WI and sawed on our sawmill there and then
brought back and used in framing and finish.  We did a lot of the
building ourselves.  Of course, it is not done yet!

I planted a row of pine trees between my 5 acres and the cemetery
to give both sides privacy.  20 years later they separate us nicely. 

My trail that leads north into the woods. 

When the woods was logged of around 1900, basswood
shoots sprang up from the old stump making clusters
of basswoods a common sight.     

Many trees, including this oak have cancers. Not sure why so many have  it,
but maybe from pasturing damage when the trees were young. 

A dozen gray, red and fox squirrels call our woods home and
take advantage of the hollow trees. 

The Pileated Woodpecker takes on a 100 year old basswood
trunk.  A storm took the top off two years ago and although the tree
is still alive, it is failing fast. 

Birds are use the woods year around.  A resident Pileated Woodpecker pair
raise a single young bird each summer right in our yard and
visit the suet feeder all winter.  

The trees grow tall in competition for sunlight over 100 years.

Margo's green houses are unused for the last 7 years as
we shifted to spring syruping in WI 

The woods is mature now--many huge basswoods and oaks at the end of long productive lives, being taken down with each prairie windstorm; a narrow strip of woods with no buffer to protect the trees from the winds--each tree in the strip getting the full brunt of each storm.  Squirrels and woodpeckers have taken over the old trees, continuing to hollow and weaken them.  In the 21 years we have lived here, probably 1/3 of the huge trees have come down, with more falling each year, making room for a new generation, that heretofore have not had an opportunity to live under the vast closed canopy.

Although it is only 8 acres of woods, the 1/4 mile long strip gives me a pleasant walk.  This morning I took the camera along to photograph the last of the big trees as they return to the soil.    Margo is baking peanut butter cookies, the kind you put the chocolate kiss on top when they come out of the oven hot--so have to quit now and return to cookie quality control checks.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Christmas Cookies by Margo

Christmas cookie baking started today with Creme de Menthe chip cookies from the recipe on the Andes chips package. A triple batch makes 12 dozen!

Not too bad, fresh from the oven!

Tomorrow is Peanut Butter Blossoms, the peanut butter cookie with a chocolate kiss on the top.  

I have to tests the chips, the cookies, and make sure the quality control is right for each batch.

To get in the mood, we connected to Youtube and searched for Christmas Cookies and watched a stream of home videos on making and decorating cookies.  Very nice ideas, even for packaging them.

Winter on the Farm 1955

Christmas vacation started for us boys with the Christmas program at school.  The program was the day before vacation started so we could spend the next day dismantling the school stage and carrying the chairs back down the hill, across Wolf Creek and back up to the Wolf Creek school.  We cleaned the school and spent the rest of the day getting our Christmas gifts we made at school for our parents ready.  We had cut a pig bread board out of plywood with a coping saw and decorated and oiled it.
The next day started our 2 weeks of vacation. We spent most of it outdoors with Dad.  I am going to give you a look at a single day on the farm in December 1955.
It started with Dad waking up at 5:30 am.  He already had his long johns on, so put on his heavy socks, a flannel shirt, his striped Lee Overalls and high top leather shoes.  Next he went into the basement and put a few pieces of wood in the furnace and opened it up to get the house warmed up.  By this time Mom was up and starting her morning chores.

Putting on his canvas overall coat, he turned on the yardlight, put on the 2 buckle rubbers over his shoes and headed to the barn reading the thermometer on the way.  If it was 10 or above, he would plan to start the tractor and haul the manure that day onto the field assuming the snow was not already too deep. 
He entered the barn where the Holsteins were mostly lying down in their stalls chewing their cuds.  The barn was heated by the 24 cows themselves.  Dad regulated the temperature by opening the silo door a little, the haymow door a little and maybe one of the top halves of the 4 doors at each corner of the barn.  He aimed for the 50s, comfortable for milker and cows.
The cows faced each other across the manger.  A watercup was shared by every two cows. Dad entered the barn and turned on the 8 bare lightbulbs that lit the barn up.  The farm didn’t get electricity until 1947.  Nails above the walkway behind the cows showed where the kerosene lantern had been hung.  Electricity was still in the early days so several nights a year the kerosene lamp was needed still.   When neighbor Ernest Armstrong turned on his electric lights for the first time in his barn he exclaimed “there hasn’t been this much light in here since I put the roof on!”
He took off his coat, turned on his tube radio to WCCO in time to hear the good morning song.  Sometimes he listened to his former neighbors, Hank and Thelma on the KSTP Sunrise show.   Tube radios lasted only a few years in the damp barn atmosphere.  Dad was trying to keep up with the Grade A milk regulations.  He had built a separated milk house with water, hot water heater, washing sinks, drying racks and medicine cabinet.  It was the first place on the farm we had continuous hot water.  The house hot water was heated by a coil in the furnace winters and a special wood water heater in the summer.
He had a submerged concrete water tank built in one end of the milkhouse.  He sent his milk in cans at that time.  He put them in the water tank and pumped cold water from the well into the tank to cool the milk.  Later he used a bulk tank.  The milk house was inspected regularly and had to be very clean.  It was against the rules to open the doors from the barn to the milkhouse to keep it warm in the winter.  He used an electric heater to keep the insulated building a little above freezing.
Getting the two Surge milking machines ready was next.  He filled his stainless steel pail with hot water.  He brought the milkers into the barn with the hot water and hooked up the vacuum hoses.  He turned on the vacuum pump and it began its constant chugging sound for the next 90 minutes.   He sucked up the hot water half into each milker, sloshed it around and poured it back into several smaller pails for washing the cows.
He next got the end and middle cows up on the west side of the barn and put surcingles on each and the cow next to them, looking to make sure he hadn’t marked on the rump with a big crayon X indicating cow being treated for mastitis—and thus to be milked last and saved for the calves.    Each cow’s bag had to be washed and dried then the milker attached, sucking up onto each of the teats.  With both machines hooked up the sound of the Surge pulsators added to the radio and pump “snick chunk snick chunk” The two never quite synchronized so the rhythm shifted like beats in out of tune instruments.
Cows milked out in just a few minutes.  While they were milking, Dad would wash the next cow and then adjust the surcingle to put a little more suck and strip out the last of the milk.  Pinching each inflation let you feel the milk flow and pulling down on it stripped out the last milk.  You unhooked each quarter and lifted the milker with a smooth motion that let you unhook the surcingle and grasp it and carry both out where you made a smooth gentle toss that laid the surcingle over the next cow in line.  The milk was dumped into the milk pail, lid put on to keep the cats and flies out, and milker put on the next cow.  The milk pail was carried to the milk house where it was dumped into a strainer with milk strainer pad and into the milk can.  When the can was full the next one brought from the rack and the filled one lifted into the water tank.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Skipping Through the Stages of Grief

cartoon from

  Another health related posting. When folks get old and decrepit, they tend to dwell on their health to the boredom of everyone around them.  So, in this post, I try to get past that and plan a future with MG, an incurable, somewhat debilitating condition, that however has the positive side of being treatable and not progressive if treated, but leaves one at a lower functioning level and the need to make changes.    
Luckily, Margo seems destined to be cleared of her cancer and so her planning is short term--how do I get through a few more treatments, surgery and radiation and then get on with my life. 
I have only been an Myasthenia Gravis (MG) diagnosed person since May 22, 2012.  All of my info and experience is limited to the last 6 months.  During that time, I have been quite active on a Myasthenia Gravis internet discussion group,  both in asking for and giving advice and watching as others here as they share their experiences with MG.  As MG is a very rare disease, sharing MG experiences with others who are struggling through it is very helpful!  We advise, sympathize, empathize, encourage, and learn from each other as well as share our experiences with the medical system where few medical folks actually have a clue about MG and what it entails for patients and often steer us in conflicting and counterproductive directions. 
A common lamentation from MG'ers is the limitation in our physical activity, especially from folks who abruptly are struck and struggle with the sudden severe restrictions as they are first getting into balance with disease and meds and their side effects. The first few months are often the worst, with the first few years difficult and then things smoothing out some, yet hovering in the background to swoop in again and drop us in the emergency room in response to a common cold or flu getting out of control.  
MG is a hard, miserable disease that changes our lives much too drastically. It plagues most of the physical things we try to do while tying us to doctors, clinics, and medications who have few tools other than adjustments in medications and treatments around the edges. It is depressing each day to have to limit what we do based on our muscles and breathing and such, with each day as likely to be good as it is to be quite bad. 
So what can I do to adjust?
I am treating MG as a loss; one that takes me through the grieving stages. Stage one of grieving is denial. Then comes anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance according to the K├╝bler-Ross theory. I think this model fits my reactions to MG, although as a extremely rational person, I think I can understand things and react to them rationally better than emotionally.  The one case where that hasn't worked is with prednisone and appetite ;-)
I skipped right to depression stage, after thoroughly researching MG and understanding right away that realistically, unless I had a rare remission or a wonderful response to medications, I would never function normally again, nor be free of medications with miserable side effects.
After a few months wallowing in depression, and decent improvement with meds, I am mostly in the stage of acceptance, determining what I can do with my next 20 years, hopeful that my current recovered ability to walk slowly for extended distances will not only continue, but improve.
I am so pleased that I can walk for 2 hours through the woods, albeit slowly with many Kodak moments, something I couldn't do at all in June and July.
My current enthusiasm is nature photography and my new toy a 26x zoom digital camera, bought especially to help me adapt to observations that are better made at a slower pace. Trying to enhance lower functionality rather than fighting it helps me adjust.
Being retired, financially secure, insured, having competent medical care, and family support also has allowed me to ignore most of the pressing issues that come with the disease for folks who are younger.  That has let me concentrate on my own condition.  Because my wife, undergoing chemo for breast cancer, is doing remarkably well, I am able to include her support quite well into my own functioning, with help from an adult son who lives at home and has been very supportive too.  So the demands on me are really quite nominal.   
So, I am busy thinking, planning and engaging in the next phase of my life that, although it will likely be limited in physical exertion of the type I used to enjoy (I was an avid backpacker, hiker, Scout leader, and did a lot of physical work -- built my own house, cut trees, sawed lumber, run a maple sugar bush, etc).  Much I will continue at a lower level and more automations/tools, some I will give up (a wonderful excuse for dropping some things!) and I look forward to a whole new range of activities that I can do.   
A posting like this is part of my depression therapy--I will emerge from the mire of MG with new enthusiasms to do new things where MG will not be a limitation!  The first is a photo book collection of years of seasonal photos at the Wisconsin Lake.   Maybe be ready for Christmas! Today I have talked myself into feeling good about the future.
Margo Update
Margo had a tired week after chemo round 2, but is otherwise doing fine. She has 3 more to go with the next one Tues and Wed Dec. 3 and 4.  She is studying Christmas cookie recipes and gearing up for some serious cookie making in the coming days.   I dread this as I am expected to taste everything and comment on whether they are any good or not (they are all great), but I am on a pre-diabetes diet due to the large prednisone doses I take to keep MG at bay, and I suffer greatly with the abundance of cookies I must mostly leave alone!  Gonna hand them out early this year to the neighbors and family so they don't keep calling me from the pantry. I suppose it could be worse!

Polk Burnett County writers out with a new book!

A new book released on from the NW
'Regional Writers group in Polk and Burnett County.  I am one of the
20 contributors and did much of the technical aspects of getting it into print.
You can find it at :

A new book is out and available for purchase online.  it is an anthology of poetry and prose from the local writer's group in Polk and Burnett Counties.  It is pretty good reading--and at 240 pages is well worth the $10 paper or $2.99 ebook. Probably will try to sell them at the Luck Museum in a few weeks when the first paper ones are delivered by UPS truck to my door. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

1940 Armistice Day Storm --Deer Story 3

Byron, VR, Russ, Marv, Ev and Alberta.  Photo by Marley Hanson

          Two days before Parkinsons disease took my Dad, VR’s life, in 2004, a little short of his 90th birthday, he told us his story of the great Armistice Day Storm of November 11, 1940 on the West Sterling Barrens.  The people in the story have all passed on now 65 years later so the crime we reveal in this story is no longer punishable by law!

          November had started with two warm weeks that fall.  Dad, his older brothers Alvin and wife Betty, Maurice and wife Myrtle, and Lloyd were wintering on the 260 acres their father owned as speculation land in the far NW corner of Sterling along the St Croix River.    They had three separate cabins each built with lumber sawed on the Hanson sawmill.  Alvin had kept a few cows and farmed the fields that summer. Maurice and Myrtle worked in the fire towers and for the Conservation Department.  Dad and Lloyd were just arrived from their father's farm to spend the winter trapping muskrats, beaver, skunks, mink, foxes along the St Croix.

          November 11 dawned mild and very wet.  Rain had saturated the sandy land so that as Dad and Lloyd headed out in the morning to Cushing to buy their winter food and supplies, all of the low spots in the road were under water.  On the way, they met town board members Clarence Westlund and Christ Christenson inspecting Evergreen Avenue.  

          "If you will take shovels and drain the puddles off of this road before they freeze and we are stuck with ice all winter, we will pay you double time for your effort." said Clarence.  "We will start right now" replied Lloyd borrowing shovels from the township. 

          By the time they had finished it was afternoon.  The rain had changed to heavy wet snow,  the temperature was dropping fast and the wind picking up. "We better get home while we still can" said Dad.  Dad was 26 years old.  He was proud of his used Model A Ford.  He had spent much of his summer farm wages for it and the new knobby tires on the back.  The Model A with its high clearance and narrow tires with big round knobs was thought to be a real winter car.  "I hope it doesn't snow us in for long--we need to get food" he added.  

          The car struggled over the hills until they finally made it home.   Maurice met them looking worried and asked Dad "Do you think you can drive over to Herman Brown's and pick up Myrtle?  She’s at Herman Brown’s cleaning turkeys for the Thanksgiving market.”  "I give it a try!" said Dad, looking forward to the challenge. 

          Plowing through snow higher than its bumper, the Model A chugged its way up the road.  The heater was barely noticeable and the manual windshield wiper kept one hand busy.  Myrtle was glad to see him.  She hadn't wanted to be snowed in away from home.  Sterling Township's old truck with its homemade wooden snowplow was unlikely to get the roads cleared any time soon.  Getting home was even harder.  A few of the hills took several tries to get over, but finally about 4:00 they were home with the Dad and the Ford both proving their mettle.  

          Deer hunting season was still a week away.  The brothers had their guns, knives and equipment ready and each hoped to get a deer during season to help feed them during the winter.  Alvin came over from his cabin to visit Dad and Lloyd who were stoking the fire in their tar paper covered cabin.  "It looks like we are going to be snowed in for a long time" he commented looking at snow already over a foot deep and drifting.  "If you guys are short on food, let's go see if we can get a deer. There is no chance Weitz will be out today!" he chuckled referring to Chauncey Weitz, the game warden who kept a tight rein on deer poaching in the Barrens.

          Alvin was mad at the deer. He raised corn and hay on his Barrens fields along the river that summer for his few cows and team of horses.  The deer had nearly cleaned out his corn with dozens in the fields each evening all summer long.  Even after he had it in the shock they used their horns to rip them apart.  There were no deer damages paid in those days so the farmers took all of the loss themselves. 

          The Conservation Dept (now DNR) was not very popular in West Sterling.  Sportsmen from all over Polk County and beyond came to the Barrens to hunt deer, about the only place they were still found at that time.  The wardens patrolled the Barrens trying to keep deer for the outsider sportsmen to have something to hunt.  The local people, many driven to the Barrens by the Depression, felt they should have first crack at the deer for feeding them year round, but rarely dared take a chance.  Wardens would come right into your house without a warrant and search it for signs of a fresh kill.     

          Dad and Lloyd headed down into the swamps along the river on their big property, jump starting the deer hunting season by a week.  The heavy woods blunted the wind, but the snow was deep and falling steadily as was the temperature.  Dad was still single.  He hoped to make enough money that winter trapping along the St Croix to make a down payment on a farm of his own next summer.

          Muskrats sold for 60 cents; skunks $1.00; mink $15; the rare otter, beaver, fox, or weasel somewhere in between.  Good days, he and Lloyd might get 10 'rats along the St Croix and maybe a mink in one of the many springs flowing down the hill along the river.  This was at the time when farm work paid $1.00 per 12 hour day when you could get it.  

           The wind howled overhead, but the forest floor was sheltered and white, deep with heavily falling snow making it difficult to see ahead.  Dad stumbled on a deer bedded down and almost invisible just ahead.  He raised his rifle and shot at what he thought was the head.  Turns out it was the tail.  The deer jumped up, and took off, obviously wounded.  Dad quickly followed and followed and followed for the next hour or more.  There was blood, but the track filled in with snow almost as quickly as it was made. Finally just as it got dark, totally lost, but still following the track, he stumbled out on a road.   

          He knew he had to get home soon as it was truly getting cold now and in the open the wind was bitter, blowing snow so you barely could see ahead.    He was pretty sure he was on the north-south road past their cabin, and guessed he should go to the right.  He headed off with the assurance of youth and soon was at home telling his story!

          Alvin said "If you remember where you came on the road, the deer probably will be just across it. We will look tomorrow. A wounded deer beds down as soon as he stops being chased--especially in this kind of weather!"

          Next morning the snow had let up some.  It was two feet deep and drifted higher in places. Winter had dropped in all of a sudden blanketing green grass and unfrozen ground.   The deer was dead, just into the woods as Alvin thought it would be, a mile up the road.  To foil the Warden, they field dressed the deer, carefully covered the gut pile with snow and smoothed it out. Each carried part of the small buck on their shoulders carefully stepping into the same tracks making it look like a single person had walked there.  With the wind still blowing, the single track disappeared quickly leaving no trace for the Warden Weitz to drive by and see any signs of activity.  An almost perfect crime! 

          A few days later the temperatures warmed and the snow melted.  By the day before hunting season, all of it was gone.  Deer season would bring dozens of hunters swarming into the surrounding woods and the Warden haunting the roads.

           All of the snow had melted except a set of foot high hard packed ice footsteps leading from Dad's cabin to a pile of deer guts in the woods!  "We spent all day trying to get rid of those ice blocks" he laughed as he told us the story, "the best laid plans of mice and men mostly go astray!"

          Dad did make his down payment on a farm near Bass Lake next year, married and settled down to a life free of crime for the next 63 years.  His sons followed his example and except for spearing suckers in Wolf Creek 40 years ago have been free of crime themselves! 


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Margo starts phase 2 chemo

Tuesday, Margo begins phase 2 of chemotherapy for breast cancer. An MRI last week shows that cancer is no longer in the lymph nodes, most of the smaller tumors are gone in the breast and the single large tumor has shrunk to less than 1/2 size. She has 4 biweekly sessions now lasting until the end of the year followed by surgery and then radiation. So far, the side effects have been mild and she is handling it very well. Thanks for your support!

It looks like she will be ready to carry the 5 gallon maple sap pails on the steep hillsides at the WI cabin this March!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Deer Story 2

For another deer hunting story -- check Deer Hunting Remembered

  With all the deer hunting going on this week around our edge of the Sterling sand barrens, it brought back memories of the second buck I shot.  It is a mystery story, how can you kill a deer without leaving a bullet hole?

I couldn’t see clearly enough to spot the horns until he walked to an opening in the ridge directly ahead of me at least 100 yards away.  I heard him rustling as he walked by below the ridge I had sat on for the past three hours, but he stayed in the deep in the prickly ash  brush.  I saw glimpses of him, but with a buck’s only license, had to wait to be sure.  I aimed, drawing down trying to gauge his middle, difficult as he was walking directly away from me.  I squeezed off a shot with Uncle Chan’s old octagon barrel Winchester 32 Special I borrowed each of my first few years of hunting.  It had a long barrel with a gold bead and the rear site filed down for quick and accurate shooting.    

At the explosion, the deer jumped, reared up, and went into a series of twists and turns that looked just like a rodeo bronc trying to throw his rider.  His show amazed me so I didn’t think to take another shot.  Then, as if he had thrown his broncbuster, he streaked straight north, running wide open, disappearing down the ridge into the trees.  Surely I hit him hard to make that kind of ruckus.  I visually marked the spot where I first shot him and again where he disappeared, and headed over on the crusty snow to look for blood and a trail. 

Back in the 50s and 60s it was hard to shoot a deer.  There were fewer of them for many reasons including almost every piece of land was farmed either in crops or pastured tightly—not much cover or food for deer.  The deer that were around were hunted heavily.  They never seemed to get much of a herd.  Most of the time we had a buck only license, and often did not see a buck during the whole season. 

Our expectations were lower, and so when we did see a buck, our excitement higher.  I helped shoot a buck my first year of hunting along with Dad and older brother Marv, but then came a dry spell of three years—no luck at all, not even a shot.  We had good hunting areas in our own cow pastures and fields, but just didn’t see bucks. 

In those days, we didn’t use deer stands, didn’t feed deer to lure them in, didn’t use deer scents, cameras etc.  What we did do was scout the woods for a natural blind along a deer trail and find a nearby stump or log to sit on and then park ourselves there way before dawn and patiently wait, and wait, and wait!

The first morning of season always seemed to be the best chance of shooting a buck.  They weren’t spooked by being shot at yet and didn’t yet realize the woods was full of people trying to kill them.   My goal was to get into the woods and onto my stump earlier than any other hunters, so when they stumbled in, the deer might move in my direction.  I was in a full hour before dawn.

I watched the sun come up over the field to the southwest and light the big ridge across Wolf Creek where Uncle Maurice would be hunting.  Brother Marvin was hunting on his own forty on down Wolf Creek a quarter mile and should have heard my single shot.  Dad and Everett were headed to the cornfield on the sand on the other side of the River Road.  It was cold, 15 degrees and a chilly wind, and my three layers of clothes weren’t enough.  Not being able to afford hunting clothes, Mom sewed red hankerchiefs onto our old coats and pants.  Our red hats were our regular winter caps with the big ear laps and chin strap.  In those days, blaze orange clown suits hadn’t been invented yet, so Santa Claus Red or checkerboard red and black were the style.

The week before had been cold.  The swamps were frozen enough to walk carefully across.  Wolf Creek was low coming out of Roger Lake into the widening shallow pond along our land the neighbors called Lily Lake.  Deer naturally followed the big ridge just east of the creek.  The wind was from the north, so I watched to the south expecting deer to be traveling into the wind.  We wore our hunting clothes into the barn a day or two before hunting season to get them permeated with cow smell, something the deer were used to in those days and wouldn’t worry about. 

I beat it up to the spot where I figured I hit the deer.  The snow was trampled, but no blood.  “Shoot, I must have mostly missed him, but the way he jumped around, I must have done some damage,” I thought as I followed the tracks north to where I had last seen him.  There was enough fresh snow from the previous day so I see his new tracks following a regular deer trail.    

“If you wound a deer, wait a little before you follow him.  If he is wounded seriously, he will stop and lie down if you don’t push him,” was advice Dad and my uncles had given me many times.  I knew there were hunters in the next cow pasture to the north, but no shots from that direction, so hoped the deer hadn’t gotten that far. 

I waited as long as I could stand it, probably 20 minutes after the shot, and then stalked briskly along the trail trying to warm up a little but yet sneak up on the deer.  No blood along the trail.  I reached the barbwire fence at Arnold Swanson’s land north of ours.  Hair on the fence!  The deer must have hit the fence instead of going over it.  Just across the fence, a deer bed on the snow and a nearly foot in diameter blotch blood soaked into the snow.   He must be hit bad, probably heard me coming and took off again.     

I was on the ridge just east of Wolf Creek.  I could see down to Lily Lake, where ice lined the open center channel.  “Deer won’t cross here—too much of an obstacle, probably will follow the ridge right up and past Roger Lake.  I readied my gun and stalked ahead following tracks and watching all around. 

There was no more blood.  More deer tracks converged and soon I was unable to figure out which ones were my buck.   I followed the ridge north until I came to the next fence.  Across it, I recognized my neighbor, Roy Brenizer, positioned to watch the ridge I had come up.  “Did you see a buck come through here?  I shot one down on our place and followed the trail up into Arnold’s but lost it.  He was headed right towards you.”

“I heard your shot, and watched real careful, but nothing came through here.  I can’t see down in the brush right on the edge of the lake, so maybe he got between me and the lake. You should walk down to where they put the boats in and see if you can see any sign of a trail there.”

“Thanks, I’ll do that.  There is some blood back there and he laid down for a little, so I think he must be hit pretty good.”

I hunted my way back to the lake trail and down to the lake carefully scanning the ground on the way.  A few older tracks, but no blood.  “Doesn’t seem to have gotten this far; must have laid down somewhere in the brush along the lake,” I thought.  I spent the next hour thoroughly searching the brush, canary grass and cattails along the mostly frozen lake edge.  My feet broke through thin ice a many times filling my boots with frigid water.  Finding nothing, I headed back to the boat landing trail to see if he might have crossed and I missed it.  I walked out to the edge of the lake.  

Ice extended out about a third of the way into the lake with the middle open.  It was a raw, windy day, with waves out on the lake.  “Quite pretty,” I thought and had about decided to give up and go home to warm my feet when I spotted something floating out in the lake, near the north end.  It was at the edge of the ice, so far away I couldn’t really see it, but it looked out of place.  “Better look closer,” I thought. 

I floundered through the wide band of cattails and brush around the lake until I got to the north end, then worked my way out to the edge where I could see.  Sure enough, there was a deer floating in the open water right on the edge of the frozen area.  I could even see a small fork horn! 

It was 10:30, two hours since I shot the deer and five hours since I had first started hunting and I was freezing up.  I looked for neighbor Roy, but he was gone.  “So how do I get the deer out?” I asked myself.  The ice was way too thin to be safe.  My feet had long ago lost their feeling.  “I’ll hike down the three quarter mile to where brother Marv is—warm up a little that way and see what he thinks.”  I sat down on a fallen log,  dumped my boots, wrung out my socks and put them back on and trotted off, trying to get warm. 

Marvin was there.  “Haven’t seen anything to shoot at yet,” he commented as I came up the hill.  “I shot a buck and he is dead, floating out in Roger Lake!” I panted, pretty warm, but worn out.  We hiked on out of the woods to where his 55 Chev was parked.

“Well,” Marv commented, “Mac Fors’ old rowboat is probably up there with the oars where it was when we used it for fishing this summer.  Let’s see if we can row out and get it.”   We were able to drive to the lake across Uncle Maurice’s pasture to the hilltop where the old Rogers Hotel had stood.  Taking a rope with us, we flipped over the heavy old rowboat, and slid it out from the frozen shore onto the ice and climbed in.  It broke through the thin ice and we managed to break a path ahead out to the open water and then row across the lake.  The boat boards had shrunk after being out of water in the cold, so water oozed in.  “We better hurry or we’ll go down,” worried Marv as he rowed as fast as he could and the old heavy wood boat surged ahead. 

We came up to the floating deer.  I always carried three or four bale twines in my hunting coat in case I needed to drag a deer.  I tied them together and made a slipknot and looped it over the horns.  The boat already had three inches of water in the bottom and seemed to be filling faster.  Marv rowed hard.  “I suppose all the hollow hair on the deer make him float,” he commented as the now half full boat wallowed into the shore.    We drug the boat out and dumped it and tipped it back over and then drug the deer up on hard ground on the shore.  “Not too bad, a six pointer; decent size too,” commented Marvin as he began to field dress it.  Both of our hands were wet and frozen, but once inside the deer, warmed up a little.

 “Funny thing, no bullet holes in the deer I can see,” I commented.  He had bled out internally we noted as we dumped the innards out with a gush of blood.  We started dragging him up the bank to the car.  “Look at this,” said Marv, “it fell out of his mouth.  Wonder what happened?”  It was the lead from a bullet, looking almost new like it had come from the shell. 

When we skinned the deer a few days later, we kept a careful eye for a bullet hole.  Not a single hole anywhere, yet a dead deer with a spent lead in his mouth.  A real mystery. 

When I returned Uncle Chan’s gun, I told him about the deer; the shot from the rear, the strange dance he did, the bullet in the mouth and no holes in him we could find.  He thought about it awhile. 

“When you hit the deer, you must have hit him exactly in the bung hole.  He probably had hemorrhoids, and that caused his jumping around as the bullet slid up into his rear end.  The tearing around he did must have been, by chance, just the right twists, turns and jumps to let the bullet slide all the way right through the rectum, intestines and stomach up the throat and into his mouth before it was spent.  Then, thinking it was part of his cud, he chewed into it and died from lead poisoning.  Normally, lead poisoning would take longer, but with the added shock of the cold water, it probably did him in.”  I guess that is what must have happened!
Uncle Maurice raised an orphan deer back in the 50s

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Alberta Hanson 1950s with Uncle Maurice's pet deer
A couple of weekends ago, my great niece Karra and great nephew Andrew Hanson went deer hunting for the very first time under the new Wisconsin rules that set aside one weekend for 10-12 year old hunters.  They both had just finished Hunter’s Safety Training. Although their hunt was successful, it pointed up a serious problem with the Hunter’s Safety program that teaches kids how to hunt.

They used their uncle Colby’s nice deer hunting stand on our rye fields along the Old River Road.   This area is the edge of the farming areas to the east and the sand barrens woods to the left.  The woods are a bedroom community for deer who commute nightly to the corn, beans and alfalfa fields on the east side of the River Road, returning each dawn to the oak and jackpine woods and prairie remnants on the west.  

They had wonderful luck!  Andrew shot a nice 8 point in the morning and Karra a slightly larger 9 point in the evening.  My brother Marvin, their grandpa, said “they did everything right—good accurate shots, carefully placed and safely done.  The Hunter Safety classes had them prepared for ‘harvesting a deer.’”  

Harvesting a deer is the euphemism perpetrated by the DNR and sportsmen’s clubs for shooting or killing a deer.  It is like saying a person “went to eternal rest” when you meant he died.  To me it brings up an image of running a huge combine driving through the meadows scooping up deer with a big front reel and spewing out packaged meat and mounted horns on the backside.  To “set the harvest” each year the DNR and Sportsmen convene death panels to argue the numbers.

Marvin is an old time hunter and butchers his own deer and did his grandchildren’s too.  “They charge $70-80 for skinning and cutting up a deer that in the end might only have 40 lbs of meat.  And they keep the hide too!”  He can skin and process a deer in just a few hours including running it through his big motorized hamburger grinder.   “I know I get my own deer back.  At the meat markets they probably mix ones with those that hung out so long they are rotten with yours!”

Well, Everett and I drove over to look at the two deer shot by the first two hunters in the 6th generation of the family to hunt deer in Wisconsin.   Great Grandpa Hanson, who came here from Sweden, was thrilled to find that he was allowed to hunt deer—that they didn’t all belong to the king or nobles in America.  He borrowed his brother-in-law’s Civil War Spencer repeater Carbine for his first hunt in the 1870s.  Deer herds were increasing rapidly after loggers opened up the great white pine forests and left conditions that favored deer. By the time Dad was a kid in the 1920s, they had mostly disappeared from over hunting.

Andrew and Karra were helping Grandpa Marvin and their dad, Brandon, unload the deer onto the butchering table, having registered it at Stop-a-Sec in Cushing when Ev and I got there.

“t is a little too warm to keep them more than a day before we cut them up,” said Marvin.  They each had a very nice young buck; 1.5 years estimated Ev, looking at size, condition and teeth.

“Andrew, tell us about shooting your first deer,” I encouraged him.  

“He came out of the woods onto the edge of the field.  I took one shot and he fell down and died, “said Andrew shyly looking at his feet.  Uncle Everett and I waited for him to continue.

“Where did you hit him?” I prompted to get him going.  “Neck,” he replied.  And that was it.  No more story, no more details; the whole story as far as he was concerned.  Everett and I were shocked.

“Didn’t they teach you in Hunter’s Training that the most important part about shooting a deer is the story?  My gosh, you gotta do better than that to be a Hanson!  You know, a year from now the meat will be all gone; the rack of horns will be gathering dust on the wall, and all that will be left is your story.”

It suddenly occurred to us that the Hunter training folks who harvest deer with rubber gloves and ear protectors and put on a medical mask to gut them out might also have sanitized the “Hunting Story” out of the process too!

Long after Parkinson’s disease had robbed my Dad of his ability to hunt, he still participated by telling the stories of hunts of his own and his Dad and Grandpa and Uncles, some more than a century old.  If you haven’t learned how to tell a good story, by golly, you might as well go to a hunting preserve where they lead an elk out of the pen, place a pail of feed in front of him and take off the rope and let you harvest him.

I don’t blame the Hunter Safety people totally.  My brother Marvin is sadly lacking in imagination too; sort of a stick to the facts kind of guy; not able to tell a story with texture, flavor, color, embellishment, etc.  You know that kind of guy; he likes a perfectly mowed lawn, nails and screws sorted as to size and stored all facing the same direction, and the packages of meat in the freezer all labeled as to type, date, with photos of the individual deer on the wrapping paper.

Now, Everett and I learned from experts.  We first watch our Hanson great uncles sit around the parlor at Grandpa’s and crack wise.  Grandpa got too old to hunt but continued telling stories over Thanksgiving dinner.    They knew how to tell stories and passed along ones they heard from their Dad too.  They knew that good stories grew a little each year as tidbits from other stories got merged into one.  My Dad and his 5 brothers continued the tradition;  Uncles Maurice, Lloyd, Chauncey, Glenn, Erv, Ralph, and Alvin, all could spin an engrossing story of a particular hunt (successful or unsuccessful made little difference in the quality of the story).

Anyway, Everett and I have our work cut out for us.  There are already 15 members of the Hanson 6th generation aged .5 to 14, all sorely in need of story telling training.  With Hunter’s Safety people abdicating this primary function, I guess it is up to us to take over. 

I have made an outline for telling a decent deer hunting story.  Most of the points are necessary and should be expanded where possible.    1. Selecting the Gun  2.  Choosing the hunt site  3. The preparations  4.  The stealthy walk to the stand  5. The weather  6. The anticipation and false alarms and the adverse conditions  7.  I see the deer  8. Shooting the deer  9. The death scene  10.  The drag 11.  Statements of false modesty or a moral.

I include my own first kill story as an example.  It is very much abbreviated so that it will fit into this column.  The story told aloud is what my neighbor George calls a 2-beer tale.

Back in ’59, when I was 12, I bought my first deer-hunting license. I had tagged along with Dad and older brother Marvin at times the two previous years and was ready to try it myself.  The starting gun for all of us Hansons of my generation was Grandpa’s old 38-40 Winchester, fondly nicknamed “the pumpkin slinger.”  It shot a small rim fire shell that looked like a bloated 22 short.   It threw a big chunk of lead a short distance before dropping precipitously.  It held 15 shells and had a smooth well-worn lever action.  You could lay down a pattern of lead that, with luck, a deer might stumble into.

 1959 was one of those years where the Conservation Department was trying to let the deer herd grow a little.  Back in the ‘50s, deer were rare in NW Wisconsin.  Every piece of land was heavily pastured by farmers and deer were hunted heavily and never seemed to get any surplus at all.  Shooting a deer (bucks only then) was a true achievement requiring a lot of luck and skill.  That year, the season north of Hwy 70 was nine days but only from Thanksgiving on around Cushing.  Dad decided we would hunt the first day in the Kohler Peet Swamps north of Grantsburg where there was public land.

    Saturday dawned bitterly cold with wind and 22 below on the farm. We helped Dad milk the cows early and were finished well before first light.  We had long underwear that we wore all winter and rubber buckle boots to wear over our lace up leather shoes.  We put on two pairs of underwear; two pairs of wool socks, mittens with liners, our wool dull read caps and a thin red coat over our heaviest old coat. This was before the days of blaze orange, so we were red only from the waist up.  Dad took some matches “we will start a fire if we get too cold.”

    We got out of the green ’51 Chev along the road somewhere in woods north of Grantsburg just as dawn was breaking.  Cars lined the road. We uncased our guns, walked, the snow squeaking cold, into the woods. We finally found a knoll that seemed to be away from other hunters.
    Two hours into the hunt, it was light; we hadn’t seen anything, but my toes had long ago abandoned communication with the rest of me. It was really cold!  “Get a some dry twigs and birch bark and let’s start a fire,” Dad finally said.  In a few minutes, we had a small fire going; a few minutes later a nice one.  Of course, it takes just as long to unthaw your toes as it did to freeze them due to the layers that the heat needs to go through.  

 Thirty minutes later as we huddled around the fire, a couple of shots rang out nearby.  “If a buck comes through, we will have to drop him here or the next hunter will surely get him,” Dad counseled as we brought our guns up to alert.    Four deer came trotting up through the woods from the direction of the shots.  “The front one is a buck,” whispered Dad, giving us the OK to open fire.

  I think we each shot the first shot simultaneously. The big buck continued forward through brush still 100 yards away.  I shot six more times; Marvin 3, and Dad once.  The buck fell, but started to get up, so I pumped a couple more shots into him in the head area.    We rushed down and found him dead; a very nice 12 point buck. We looked and there were holes in his neck, head; front leg, back leg, hoof and a few miscellaneous nicks.  “Well ventilated” joked Dad.

  The deer had a bunch of smaller prongs around the base of the big horns that we decided made him an 18 pointer.     We drug him up near the fire and Dad showed us how to gut him out (Andrew says you “field dress” a deer now a days).
 “We need to tag him,” said Dad, “I think we all shot him, so whose tag should we use? I don’t want to use mine so I can keep on hunting.”

  Marvin agreed with Dad, and so they turned to me.  “You used the most lead!  It can be your first deer.”

      Years later, we sat around on the porch room where the mounted horns hung at home and each remembered and told the story of the “Big deer from Grantsburg.”  Each of us had our own version of the story. We can spend at least 10 minutes remembering how cold it was; another 10 minutes on how terrible the gun was; 10 minutes trying to place where the Kohler Peet swamp was; and end up arguing whether the heater in the 51 Chev was any good.

   “You know, now-a-days they tell you not to eat venison because of the splinters of lead that might be in it.  They say it messes up your brain and lowers your IQ.  I bet that Grantsburg buck was full of lead,” said Everett staring at the big old set of horns on the wall at Mom’s place last week.  “Maybe that explains why we put those horns on the bicycle in place of the handlebars the next summer, and why we didn’t realize how dangerous it was to drive around with your belly 5 inches from 18 wicked deer prongs,” he mused. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hunkering down for Winter

Snow at Pine Island this morning.  18 degrees.  Looking south to the road.
   The cabin is winterized for another season. The water system is drained; 20 gallons of water are stored in containers that will freeze up and be ready for March maple syruping; 10 mouse traps are baited and set; the electricity and wireless are turned off; and the food removed or stored in mouseproof containers.  All of the valuables are removed or clearly labeled with their garage sale or thrift store tags prominently displayed.  The doors are locked, the gate chained.
Looking down the hill at the maple sap cooking shed and the slab pile to the left ready for March
syrup season.  The lake can be seen through the trees.  

   We still will be back and forth to the cabin throughout the winter--going inside to start the wood stove while heading out to visit for a few hours as the cabin returns to toasty comfort for a few days again, mostly back to normal except that we will not start the water again until the ground thaws in April.

   It is hard to leave the cabin, the lake and all the wildlife we get to know during the summer.  We won't see the lake freeze over.  We won't be able to watch the black squirrel try to avoid capture during a white winter.

   Treatments and health has dominated our decisions this year.  Normally we would close up everything after Christmas.  But with a winter that will be scheduled around Margo's cancer treatments we are hovering around Rochester at our Pine Island home.  My own weakness from myasthenia gravis has made the challenges of wood gathering, cutting and even hauling inside and burning more than I want to do this winter.   Our home in Pine Island where our son Scott lives and will do the winter chores and the propane tank replaces the wood pile and the Mayo Clinic is only 20 minutes away is a comfortable fall back.

  Our Pine Island home has many large windows that look out into the yard and our own 5 acres of woods surrounded by corn fields.  We live out in the country with a strip of woods surrounded by fields.  The woods are home to dozens of squirrels of all types; cover for many birds including a resident pair of pileated wood peckers all attracted to Scott's bird feeders and suet.  Our neighbor, Dennis, still has a big corn field unharvested nearby that attract deer, turkeys, pheasants and others.  If he is true to form, he will leave this field most of the winter and harvest it in the spring for his dairy cows.  He doesn't have storage bins enough, so lets a field wait most years--losing some to wildlife, but feeling that the reward of sharing some of his crop is acceptable for his use of their habitat.

Margo has her 12th and last chemotherapy round 1 treatment at Mayo.  
   Margo finished 12 round one chemo treatments for breast cancer.  Her main tumor has shrunk greatly. Friday she has an MRI to see what is left.  Next Tuesday she beings chemo round 2, four biweekly treatments that will last through the end of the year to be followed by more tests, surgery and after a month for recovery, radiation ending in March if all goes well.   So far things have gone very good and she continues to be very positive, to feel reasonably well, and even still has most of her hair.

    I am still trying to balance prednisone vs disease.  A month ago I was at a high dose and doing pretty good.  As I tapered the medicine down, myasthenia came back and the weakness and problems started to return, so I am again increasing the dose.   Problem is that what you do this month mostly shows up next month, so it is hard to regulate with the delay.  However, I am functional enough to do stuff that isn't very physical.

    The big effort for this week is to get the Northwest WI Regional Writers book finalized so we can order it and get the copies back by Dec 14th so the members can have them ready for Christmas gifts.  I am waiting to get the computer file back from the editing committee -- maybe today, then go through and  get the layout right and ready for a final review by the committee on Friday (we send it back and forth through email).  The goal is to order the books before Thanksgiving.  We use's service where it takes about 2 weeks from order to delivery.  The Christmas party is Dec 14th--and we want the books ready to handout then.  The schedule is getting tight!


Friday, November 2, 2012

Mark Twain on Bad Habits

 I can quit any of my nineteen injurious habits at any time, and without discomfort or inconvenience. 
Once I tried my scheme in a large medical way. I had been confined to my bed several days with lumbago. My case refused to improve. Finally the doctor said:
"My remedies have no fair chance. Consider what they have to fight, besides the lumbago. You smoke extravagantly, don't you?"
"You take coffee immoderately?"
"And some tea?"
'' You eat all kinds of things that are dissatisfied with each other's company?"
"You drink two hot Scotches every night?"
"Very well, there you see what I have to contend against. We can't make progress the way the matter stands. You must make a reduction in these things; you must cut down your consumption of them considerably for some days."
"I can't, doctor."
"Why can't you?"
''I lack the will-power. I can cut them off entirely, but I can't merely moderate them."
He said that that would answer, and said he would come around in twenty-four hours and begin work again. He was taken ill himself and could not come; but I did not need him. I cut off all those things for two days and nights; in fact, I cut off all kinds of food, too, and all drinks except water, and at the end of the forty-eight hours the lumbago was discouraged and left me. I was a well man; so I gave thanks and took to those delicacies again.
It seemed a valuable medical course, and I recommended it to a lady. She had run down and down and down, and had at last reached a point where medicines no longer had any helpful effect upon her. I said I knew I could put her upon her feet in a week. It brightened her up, it filled her with hope, and she said she would do everything I told her to do. So I said she must stop swearing and drinking and smoking and eating for four days, and then she would be all right again. 
And it would have happened just so, I know it; but she said she could not stop swearing and smoking and drinking, because she had never done those things. So there it was. She had neglected her habits, and hadn't any. Now that they would have come good, there were none in stock. She had nothing to fall back on. She was a sinking vessel, with no freight in her to throw overboard and lighten ship withal. Why, even one or two little bad habits could have saved her, but she was just a moral pauper. When she could have acquired them she was dissuaded by her parents, who were ignorant people though reared in the best society, and it was too late to begin now. It seemed such a pity; but there was no help for it. These things ought to be attended to while a person is young; otherwise, when age and disease come, there is nothing effectual to fight them with.

Margo has few bad habits to fall back on.  Luckily, I have, like Mark Twain, at least 19.